Abu Mazen Gets Two More Weeks to Form His Cabinet

Associated Press
April 10, 2003

The newly appointed Palestinian prime minister delayed naming his long-awaited government yesterday.

Forming the new cabinet has been a condition for the publication of a U.S.-backed "road map" to Palestinian statehood, but Prime Minister-designate Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) asked Yasser Arafat yesterday for a two-week extension to resolve disputes over his choice for interior minister, who will control security forces. Mazen had been expected to name the cabinet today.

The choice for interior minister could determine the credibility of a Mazen government, which Western mediators - and Israel - hope will seriously crack down on Palestinian militants. Mazen favors former Gaza strongman Mohammed Dahlan, who is also backed by international mediators and is seen as likely to try to rein in the militants. Arafat wants to retain his longtime aide Hani al-Hassan, who has served as interior minister for months but has made no serious move toward reforms, officials have said. Arafat aide Nabil Abu Rdeneh said Mazen asked for the extension yesterday and Arafat agreed.

In an apparent reflection of the incoming premier's positive image, Mazen and Arafat yesterday met with German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer - the first senior government minister to visit Arafat since the Israelis destroyed most of his compound last year.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Jonathan Peled said the Israeli government urged Fischer not to meet with the Palestinian leader, explaining "our view on Arafat and the fact that meeting him, for us, is a very unconstructive step." Israel and the United States have refused to meet with Arafat, charging he is implicated in terrorism.

Fischer said Germany supported the three-phase road map, which calls for statehood by 2005 and was developed several months ago by the so-called "Quartet" of the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations. Publication of the peace plan, however, depends on Mazen assuming power. Fischer said the imminent publication of the road map was "a great opportunity for achievement."

Arafat said a new cabinet would likely be named by Saturday despite the two-week extension.

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